Editor’s Note: For those of us on the River who know Hunter Grimes and his energy, this story will not be a surprise. And, for those of us who had no idea there was a Hunter in a Formula E Hydroplane, this article is both informative and fascinating. Bravo Hunter, continue to go fast and stay safe!
Talking with Hunter is easy. You’d think he never met a stranger. I’d met his legendary dad, Hunter Grimes Junior, fifty-odd years ago, but I’d never before met Hunter III.
Hunter’s dad was a champion outboard racing-boat driver. In 1956, he demolished the years-old mile straightaway record in what was then called C Utility class in a boat named Miss Thousand Islands. It was a thirteen-foot runabout powered by a Mark 30H, the racing version of Mercury’s thirty-horsepower pleasure-boat engine. He later won a National Championship with that rig.
I’m now at the September 2011 outboard regatta on Crystal Lake, one of the Indian River lakes near Redwood, about ten miles inland from the River.
“Hi,” I said introducing myself to Hunter III. “Our editor, Susie Smith, asked me to write a profile about you.”
“What’s a profile?” Hunter grinned.
“Beats me,” I said. “I was hoping you’d know.”
“I haven’t a clue,” Hunter said.
“Then I guess we’ll just hafta fake it, and I’ll dummy something up later.” I said. “I’ll just follow you around and ask dumb questions until I think I know something.”
“That should work,” he said.
“Let’s start with your boat, this yellow one here with your name on it. They tell me it’s a Formula E Hydroplane. What’s that? We didn’t have that class when I quit racing twenty-five years ago.”
“Three-cylinder Johnsons and Evinrudes from some years back. They introduced them as 55-horse, but the last had a 75-horse rating.”
“That explains the E then,” I said, “E for 50 cubic inches of piston displacement. The old E engines were the pre-1950 33-horse Evinrudes. Gas tanks that wrapped around the back of the flywheel, started them with a rope and wooden handle. Some difference in horsepower, huh?”
“Yeah,” he said. “These engines are a lot more modern. And they’re modified, while the old Evinrudes were stock.”
Hunter pointed to the tuned exhaust on the port side of the engine.
“The engine’s insides are modified for more power too,” he said.
“I can just imagine,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You run gas-and-oil though, right?”
“Yeah, that hasn’t changed. The modified engines can have a lot of internal changes and external add-ons, like tuned exhaust, but the fuel restriction remains. No alcohol or exotic additives.”
“Shouldn’t be hard to get 100 miles-an-hour or more from one of these, even on gasoline,” I said. “How much over 100 have you seen?”
“Craig DeWald told me to stop worrying about top speed and start concentrating on how quick I can get around the race course instead,” Hunter said, deflecting my question.
“I know Craig real well,” I said. “America’s top propeller maker now, has customers in Europe too, Hungary and Germany that I know of for sure.”
“I was at a race not long ago, and they wanted to put a GPS on my boat,” Hunter said.
“Who ‘they’,” I asked, “The race officials?”
“Yep, to get a top-speed readout.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t let ‘em,” he said, “Because I don’t have to.” He grinned again.
“Was it about a capsule?”
I’d learned by talking to other guys that a rule now requires 100-mile-an-hour boats to have a breakaway safety capsule in which the driver sits for protection in case of a crash.
“And your boat is a lie-down boat,” I said.
“Yep, I don’t want to drive any sit-up race boat. Too high a center of gravity. I started with that Giles boat over there” he continued. “My son, Gun, races it now.”
“I know Bill Giles,” I said. “He’s my age or more and has raced out of Taunton, Mass since he was a teenager, won several championships over the years. One of the nicest guys ever.”
“You got that right,” Hunter said, “But he doesn’t race anymore. He hit the water so hard this spring at the Winter Nationals in Tabor City, NC that he bruised his aorta, despite the flak plates in his life jacket. Nearly died. They had to open him up to sew things together and save him.”
“Well he had a good long run,” I said. “It’s time he stopped. I hadn’t heard about that … four years or so ago since I saw him at the last regatta on the Pasquotank in Camden, NC.”
“This yellow boat that I drive now is mostly carbon fiber,” he said.
“Really light, then?” I said.
“Oh, you bet. And strong and nimble.”
“Is this the boat you blew over backward in Ocoee, Florida, winter a year or so ago?”
“Sure is,” he said. “That was a hard crash. When I woke up in the ambulance and saw that white ceiling and the light, I thought ‘It’s just like what they say when you die, the white light’.”
“Scary, huh?” I said.
“Yeah, but when I came to a little better, I realized I was still here.”
“So these little gray wings in front are to help hold you on the water?” I asked.
“Yep, she flies too high without ‘em.”
“I needed one on my last boat too,” I said, “But just one about a foot wide in the center to air-dam the tunnel, not two on the sides like you have.”
“Whatever works,” he said.
“Speaking of scary stuff, I hear you were a navy SEAL, too. Tell me about that.”
“I was in the Navy from 1966 to 1970 and volunteered for UDT school,” he said.
“Underwater Demolition Team?” I asked.
“Yeah, they were just getting started with SEALs back then, only two SEAL teams, One and Two, one on each coast.”
“I didn’t realize you could be a SEAL in one enlistment,” I said. “I thought you need to be on at least a second enlistment to volunteer.”
“That might be true now, I don’t know,” he said. “Back then, we could volunteer for UDT [Underwater Demolition Team]. Our trainer was a guy seven feet tall and built like a tree. His thighs were like this.”
Hunter spread his hands apart about fourteen inches with thumbs and forefingers extended to indicate a circle.
“Guy must’ve weighed over 300 pounds, all muscle! On the first day he told us, ‘By the time I’m through with the lot of you, you’ll run head first into a brick wall when I tell you, knowing that you can punch your way through. If any of you aren’t ready for that, just leave now.’ By the end of training, those of us left would run at that brick wall if he told us to, knowing we could get through it.”
I laughed. “That’s why Doug Reed told me yesterday that you’re ‘absolutely fearless’, Doug’s exact words. It was Doug, incidentally, who told me you blew over backward at Ocoee.”
“Anyway,” Hunter said, “Across the street from UDT was another training camp. So I asked our instructor what was over there. ‘You want to stay away from that bunch,’ he said. ‘Those guys are really nuts!’ Turns out it was the SEALs, and I couldn’t wait to get with them.”
“And so you did,” I said.
“Yep, and they were really trying to showcase the SEALs then.”
“But the UDT was getting plenty of exposure then too,” he continued. “You know that space-capsule retrieval at sea, Apollo 7 I think it was? Well, they knew exactly where it would splash down and had ships right there ready for the pick-up. They could’ve just hooked onto the capsule with a big helicopter and hoisted it onto one of the ships. But no, they wanted a media circus, guys jumping outta helicopters and swimming to the capsule … all that dog-and-pony show.”
“So that’s how you got your picture as part of that operation?” I said.
“Yep, totally unnecessary,” he said.
“I hear you’re a contractor now,” I said.
“Yeah, I started small, building docks at first, a lot of underwater stuff that other guys either wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Then we built some cottages. We expanded downstate and then into New England. Now we do mostly commercial stuff along the Eastern Seaboard.”
“Impressive,” I said. “Hardly seems as though it would leave enough time for boat racing.”
“You’ve got to have balance in your life, Dave. I always try to leave time for the fun things like hunting and fishing.”
“Roger that,” I said, thinking I had enough for Susie’s profile.
Hunter won his race handily on Saturday, both heats, coming from behind.
By Dave Whitford
Dave Whitford was a professional technical writer for IBM. However he is quick to report his overall background is “an exiled River Rat; boat mechanic at Reed's, Mercers, & Central Florida; and as a general misfit”. He now lives in East Virginia near Williamsburg. He is a contemporary of Dick Whithington and first wrote TI Life when he read about Dick’s experiences in Winter Islanders. His short story “Duck Hunting”, was published in TI Life in March 2010. Last month he wrote “Tinkering” giving a tribute to the late Riggs Smith and Smith’s outboard racing days. “Tinkering” had previously been published in the literary magazine - Righter Monthly Review, September, 2011.